Should It Stay or Should It Go?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Less Traveled

Artists: Aaron Binder; The Jimmy Bruno Trio; Joey DeFrancesco; Eddie Green; Gary J. Hassay; The Landham Brothers; Nate Wiley and the Crowd Pleasers
Albums: This Side of Jazz (AB); Live at Birdland II (JB); Goodfellas (JD); This One's for You (EG); A Survivor's Smile (GJH); At Last (TLB); Friday, Saturday, Sunday (NW)
Source: Promos

There's that saying about the road less traveled. It's the kind of saying everyone will say to someone else, but rarely actually think about for themselves. When it's decision time, how often does the average person turn to a paraphrased (and usually misunderstood) line from Robert Frost?

But there's really something to it. When it was time to start making my way in the world, a lot of what I had in mind (writing, editing, publishing...that sort of thing) suggested that I take the very-traveled path. Go to New York, get one of those entry-level gigs, steel yourself for the rejection notices from editors (or the non-responsive silence, which is even worse) and get ready to have some roommates. I knew some people who were already on the road, and boy did they not sound too thrilled about it.

And then there was the less-traveled option. Go to Philly, which one doesn't necessarily associate with the vast empires of publishing, but which actually had a very healthy industry in medical publishing. Go to the smaller local newspapers, pitch my knowledge of jazz (I listened to much more rock and such, but there were lots of writers already staking out those beats) and get some bylines right off the bat. Oh, and no roommates - this less-traveled road was paved with higher salaries and lower rents.

I remember my first day of work in New York City, years later, when I found myself in Grand Central Station during the morning rush. All of the sudden, I was doing the obvious thing, the one everyone thought of. By then, I'd built up a few good things for myself, but it was still a bit of a shock to the system to find myself doing things the more-obvious way. The struggles for the bylines were steeper, new jobs were exponentially harder to come by, and in general anything that I had in mind already had a waiting list. Though I still stuck to the no roommates thing, until I married one.

All of the artists on these CDs are stops along my less-traveled road. When you're one of the jazz guys in a city that's a couple hours south of the jazz capital of the world, the local talent isn't even really the minor leagues. Some of the top jazz musicians, past and present, come from Philadelphia, but very few stay there. The ones who do are generally like these guys - rarely hurting for a local gig, and rarely moving beyond that. They are eager to do the interviews, happy to send the promo discs, thrilled when you ask to come to the gig. But the story doesn't often evolve - the next time they're playing in support of the next locally released album, my editor usually wouldn't want to assign the story, since there wasn't much new to report from the last time.

Only two names here jump out: Jimmy Bruno and Joey DeFranceso, two local cats who got to roar with the lions further up the Turnpike. The others...well, with the exception of Nate Wiley (who recently passed away) I couldn't even tell you if they were still playing, nevermind what they were playing. I'll occasionally see the name Landham in the session credits of a new jazz CD, but I don't even remember who Gary J. Hassay is - his CD looks self-released on an Allentown label, and there's actually a bent business card inside the disc's case, listing him as "Saxophonist and President, improvisationalmusicco, inc." And I remember being blown away by Eddie Green at the time, but I don't think anything really happened for him, either. Like the rest of them, Green was trying to take the oft-traveled path, and there were rows and rows of other piano players swinging along in front of him.

SISOSIG? These are the last of my Philly-scene jazz promo CDs (many, many others went in earlier purges), and I don't think there's much reason to hold onto them, with the exception of Bruno & DeFrancesco. The music on those two discs is as good - or better - than a lot of the other stuff I've got in a similar vein, and it makes the starting team reasonably often. And Nate Wiley is a sentimental favorite: the disc sounds like late nights at Bob & Barbara's, which is something that is still a kick to hear.

The rest...well, if I want to hear a piano trio, the truth is I'm just not ever going to reach for Eddie Green. Eric Dolphy once suggested that jazz was too much of a moment in time, and shouldn't be recorded - the moment is supposed to pass, and there's something unnatural about revisiting it again and again. The moment's passed for me with Binder, Green, Hassay and the Landhams, and I don't anticipate needing to travel along with them again.

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